Assessments

PISA Results: Math Down, Science and Reading Flat for U.S. Students

Top 10 Scores in Mathematics Literacy

  1. Singapore: 556
  2. Japan: 538
  3. Estonia: 534
  4. Taiwan: 532
  5. Finland: 531
  6. Macau: 529
  7. Canada: 528
  8. Vietnam: 525
  9. Hong Kong (China): 523
  10. B-S-J-G (China, as represented by Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces): 518

The average OECD score was 493.

American 15-year-olds declined in performance on the "mathematics literacy" portion of the 2015 international PISA assessments, compared to 2012 and 2009. Reading and science scores remained flat in the latest assessment. An analysis of the results was released today by the United States Department of Education.

PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment, is an international effort created by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to let nations compare student performance in certain subject areas near the end of their compulsory education. The core assessments in math, reading and science are administered every three years.

According to the results of the latest assessment, the average math score for U.S. students was 470, which puts them in 36th place among the 69 nations that participated in the latest assessment. It's also the lowest PISA score ever recorded in math by U.S. students. Mathematics scores for U.S. students date back to 2003:

  • 2003: 487
  • 2006: 474
  • 2009: 487
  • 2012: 481
  • 2015: 470

A score of 470 corresponds to a 3 on the program's 6-point scale. According to the Education Department:

At level 3, students can execute clearly described procedures, including those that require sequential decisions. Their interpretations are sufficiently sound to be a base for building a simple model or for selecting and applying simple problem-solving strategies. Students at this level can interpret and use representations based on different information sources and reason directly from them. They typically show some ability to handle percentages, fractions and decimal numbers, and to work with proportional relationships. Their solutions reflect that they have engaged in basic interpretation and reasoning.

It's also worth noting that in mathematics, the United States had a relatively high percentage of low-performing students and a low percentage of high-performing students. A massive 29.4 percent of American 15-year-olds scored 1 or below on the 6-point scale in math (versus the international average of 23.4 percent); and 5.9 percent scored 5 or higher on the scale (versus the international average of 10.7 percent).

Among all the states, Massachusetts stood out with an average mathematics literacy score of 500, including 10 percent in the top tier (scoring 5 or higher on the scale) and just 17 percent scoring 1 or lower on the scale.

The overall story in science and reading was one of stagnation rather than decline. Scores in both subjects were within one point of the previous year's assessment, representing no statistically significant change. In science, the United States' average score of 496 was good enough for 25th place and was slightly above the OECD average of 493. The reading score of 497 put the nation in 24th place, beating the OECD average of 493.

The PISA results for the United States were similar, but less promising, than results released last week in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which compared U.S. fourth and eighth graders over time and to their international counterparts.

The analysis published by the U.S. Department of Education can be found here. The United States spotlight published by OECD can be accessed freely here. And the complete PISA report can be found here.

About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director, education for 1105 Media's Public Sector Media Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal. A 22-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEJournalDave (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).


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